Rosetta Scott, 78, sitting deep in the brown leather armchair in her living room, pointed to the furniture she wanted out of her West Side home.
“The couch, the love seat, all of that,” she said.
A few volunteers hoisted up the couch and angled it out the door; on the stoop, others installed a railing; the sound of a drill rose from the basement.
“It’s a godsend,” Scott said of the work being done on her home at no charge, thanks to a local nonprofit.
Her two-story, single-family house in the 1400 block of North Mayfield Avenue in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood has been in need of upkeep since her husband died.
A fire had damaged the roof. The basement drywall was moldy. And just when she wasn’t sure how she would manage, she found an answer in Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago, which repairs homes for people in need.
“I couldn’t afford this, not after my husband died,” said Scott, a retired Chicago Public Schools teaching assistant.
Scott and her husband, Ollie, bought the house about 40 years ago. They moved there from Cabrini-Green and raised five kids. He died two years ago from a blood clot; she lives in the house with her eldest son.
Her daughter found out about the nonprofit last year and helped her mother fill out an application.
“Our mission is to repair homes and revitalize communities,” said Wanda Ramirez, the group’s CEO.
The group has repaired about 1,900 homes and 280 community spaces in Cook County since its founding in 1991. The Austin home was around the 80th this year. Lately, Ramirez estimated, the group has worked on about 90 homes a year.
Applications can be filled out on the group’s website. Homes are chosen for repairs based on a set of criteria. Besides taking into account the owner’s income, the group also requires that applicants own and live in the home, and that the required work can be done safely by volunteers. Many recipients are seniors seeking modifications such as grab bars, that will allow them to remain safely in their home.
Ramirez estimated the group receives around 300 applications annually and fixes up homes as funding can be arranged. Scott’s home was one of six funded by Lowe’s recently, all in Austin. Work on her house started Nov. 4 and the group hopes to finish around the end of the month.
The dozen volunteers included some from Lowe’s along with the nonprofit’s own regular volunteers.
Bob Spence, 64, of Wilmette works on about a dozen homes annually and has volunteered with the group since the mid-2000s. The Austin home was his last job before retreating to Florida for the winter, where the retired engineer has a home.
“What keeps me coming? The free coffee and doughnuts,” he said, looking at a spread for the volunteers.
“No, it’s to help someone in need, of course,” he said.
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.